A- Sound C+ Extras A
starring Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher
screenplay by Daniel Petrie Jr.
directed by Martin Brest
by Walter Chaw I used to watch Beverly Hills Cop about once a week in regular rotation with other movies I bootlegged during those first delirious go-rounds with the VCR-connected-to-rented-VCR carousel. It was on an extended-play tape with two other movies (Desert Hearts was one of the others, Re-Animator the third; quite the triple-feature!); back then, quantity beat the ever-loving shit out of quality. (Bless Paramount, by the way, for always being too cheap to encode their VHS tapes with Macrovision.) For me, Beverly Hills Cop was, like its contemporary Ghostbusters, the ne plus ultra of comedy--my eleven-year-old self still a couple of years away from Monty Python--and the requisite throwaway scene in a strip club was enough to be the centrefold in this analog PLAYBOY that, huzzah, I didn't have to hide between the mattress and bedspring. The picture had, truth be told, everything a pre-pubescent boy could want in terms of violence (but not freaky violence), sex (but not freaky sex), nobility (the easy-to-understand kind), and plotting (ditto). The hero was an African-American man I'd never seen on SNL (which was on too late for me to catch) and had likewise never seen in 48Hrs.. He was small and not particularly powerful, but he was lithe and had a quick wit and compelling improvisational skills, and he ably parlayed his minority status in a few scenes that aren't the slightest bit threatening. Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley is, in fact, not entirely unlike cultural brother E.T.--the outsider hero with special abilities who, mission accomplished, can slink off to wherever it is he came from.
That wherever it is being Detroit, Motor City, where Foley is the po-po, jiving from undercover in the back of a stolen cigarette truck while The Pointer Sisters carve out their only hit on the back of the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all-time. The comparison is apt, because the poverty and decay of Detroit might as well have been Mars to me (still: the best joke of RoboCop now is that its vision of a destroyed, post-apocalyptic Detroit is sunnier than the city's current reality), and Foley emerging from it to restore an affluent, white, equally sci-fi community had an undeniably seductive appeal to a kid--me--who was also a minority in a predominantly white area who often wondered what the hell happened. The fish-out-of-water humour is of the same species as "The Beverly Hillbillies", spiced up a little--through the magic of casting and Murphy's temporary status as racial spokesman--by a mild racial element. Compare the one, probably ad-libbed line in Beverly Hills Cop about Axel's race ("A black man, dressed like this...") with the barrage of racial taboo-breaking in Walter Hill's brilliant 48Hrs. to begin charting the legendarily-steep decline of Murphy as a conversation worth having outside the tabloids.
After his archetypal chief (Gilbert R. Hill) perfunctorily chews him out, Axel is visited by a childhood pal who made good in Beverly Hills as a security guard and has returned to Detroit, with a pocketful of pilfered bearer bonds (German, because Germany is a good shorthand for "evil"), to shoot some stick. Alas, said buddy (an unbelievably young, and hirsute, James Russo) is executed for his transgression across social lines, leaving Axel to drive his undesirable black ass to Hollywood and Vine to show the soulless BHPD how a brother solves a murder. If nothing else, Beverly Hills Cop comes full-circle from stick-in-his-ass MISTER Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) teaching all the loosey-goosey crackers how systems and edd-ication is the answer to equality to loosey-goosey Axel Foley teaching all the stick-in-their-ass crackers how to loosen up, objectify the bitches, drink magnums, and nail some presumably-racist Aryans for smuggling drugs into the country. Drugs--it's not said, but we're all thinking it--that will most likely end up back in Detroit to further oppress Axel's people. And by the way, there is no answer to equality. The film's closest analog is probably the underestimated Demolition Man, which has the balls to un-freeze a relic from an alien society to deal with a social irritant--but doesn't have the balls to re-freeze him the way that Beverly Hills Cop sends Axel away once he's outlived his usefulness, a bag full of purloined hotel robes his only recompense.
Six months earlier in the same year as Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy stars in his first flop, Best Defense, before embarking on The Golden Child (which mocked Asian cultures instead of white ones), Coming to America (which doubled back to target African cultures), and various other projects too sundry (Vampire in Brooklyn) and/or embarrassing to detail at length. Despite his astoundingly rapid ascension of the ranks into the American cultural pantheon on the backs of his short stint on SNL and performances in 48Hrs. and Trading Places, by Beverly Hills Cop he's already showing fatigue, as what's genuinely edgy and disquieting about his persona is steadily bleached-out into a far-easier-to-assimilate image of the help, invited in for supper and then bed down in the barn. Good boy. Who would've thought the erstwhile Reggie Hammond would spend his dotage fucking himself (Norbit), doing the voice of an animated donkey sidekick, and talking to animals and toddlers in kiddie franchises? But already in Beverly Hills Cop, there's a distinct feeling that Murphy represents all the marginalized members of our society (recall the lisping gay caricature he essays to earn an audience with chief baddie Maitland (Steven Berkoff)), summarizing the main elements that marginalize them in amusing stand-up routines and repackaging them in a socially-beneficial, cute, even-tempered helper elf. Axel watches white strippers dance, but he doesn't get the sex he gets in 48Hrs., nor is he offered the tantalizing carrot of interracial sex as in Trading Places. Just a couple years into his superstardom, he's already been neutered for your protection.
Not helping matters is that Axel's chief antagonists in Beverly Hills Cop are a bumbling pair of Laurel & Hardy flatfoots, Taggert (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, eternally Brad Hamilton). They're the straight men to Axel's act, fooled by his antics and awestruck by his resourceful street smarts until, in the end, they finally learn to strut under the tutelage of their very own brother from another planet. It's telling that director Martin Brest encouraged Ashton and Reinhold to play their roles like an old married couple, as Beverly Hills Cop is essentially Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with a uniquely not-smart-but-clever screenplay that likewise shies away from the real issues Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley raises in favour of something perilously close to a minstrel show. When Eddie does his trademark A-OK (i.e., "o-tay") hand gesture and Buckwheat grin in Cop, it's not ironic and self-knowing as it is in 48Hrs. or borderline-devastating as it is in Trading Places, but curiously un-ironic and not-self-knowing. Absolutely the most capable person in the film, Axel gets no commendation, no woman, no nothing except the satisfaction of avenging the death of a white friend at the hands of white villains to the glorification of the white policemen who are aided by him. He is, signs suggest, already the nigger.THE BLU-RAY DISC
Beverly Hills Cop comes to Blu-ray from Paramount in a nice 1.78:1, 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that avoids the smoothness of many catalogue releases and exhibits none of the obvious lack of care afforded recently to 48Hrs.. It's not showcase material (nor is this necessarily the kind of movie that lends itself to being showcased), but it's not bad, with better interior shadow detail than I ever remember having seen. An environment ripe for colour bleed and murkiness, the strip club, is, for example, notably well-defined. There's (fine) grain throughout as befits a film shot on film and exteriors pop in a way I doubt they have since the first screenings on the first days. The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is more disappointing, as most of the information is relegated to the front channels. Although ultimately adequate, neither does the mix feel as muscular as I remember it. Partly the product of decades of stakes-raising fare, no doubt, but also that the soundtrack lacks a lot of, well, muscle.
Brest contributes a
feature-length yakker that begins with a burst of enthusiasm that's
both charming irritating as he declares that he hasn't seen the film in
"150 years" and is "mesmerized" by the parade of opening credits.
Later, he'll apologize and say that his periodic lapses into silence
are because he's hypnotized by the dialogue; Brest probably did a lot
of uncredited work on the screenplay. I like an anecdote about how an
undercover cop they hired for security while shooting second-unit in
Detriot refused to go into certain neighbourhoods--and I like Brest's
memory for small moments that actually edify the experience of the
film. As disappointed as I am returning to Beverly Hills Cop
all these years later, I guess at heart I remain a fan, and these tales
out of school are still tales I wanted to hear. Herein, learn how they
retooled the film after Sylvester Stallone priced himself out of it and
how there was an awareness of race issues but that they were almost
unconsciously transmogrified into caste issues. I didn't love Brest
taking credit for some of Murphy's Murphy™ riff, but hey. I listened to
it without frustration the whole way through and that's saying
Ported over with Brest's commentary from the Special Collector's Edition DVD, "Beverly Hills Cop: The Phenomenon Begins" (30 mins., SD) is a 2002 retrospective making-of in which the likes of producer Jerry Bruckheimer recount the myths and half-truths surrounding the genesis of the film. Michael Eisner, everyone seems to agree, was instrumental on the ground floor, which, honestly, ain't that hard to believe. Credited writers Danilo Bach and Daniel Petrie Jr. talk about original casting choices Mickey Rourke, Clint Eastwood, and James Caan (and Brest offers in the yak-track that much of what he imagined for the Detroit prologue patter came from Mean Streets--further intimating that he had more than a custodial interest in the shooting script)--but the rest of the time is spent documenting the high volume of on-set improvisation. One speculates that the combination of this spontaneity and an idolatry of Murphy's ability to riff did the star no favours going forward. Stallone's rewrites are discussed in passing, though the participants resist cheap shots at Cobra, the film eventually spun from his take on the material. By all accounts, Stallone comported himself with absolute civility. A great piece in spite of the inevitable hagiography.
"A Glimpse Inside the Acting Process" (9 mins., SD) has the core cast (Reinhold, Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, and Murphy, appearing via footage from the Dr. Dolittle 2 junket) again discussing the familiar things and Brest recalling his planned approach to working with Stallone and how he saw the whole thing as a story of class struggle (like his Midnight Run, come to think of it). Not as interesting, but not terrible. "The Music of Beverly Hills Cop" (8 mins., SD) starts to slide off the rails as, unfortunately, for as immensely popular as the soundtrack proved to be at the time, it blows Beverly Hills Cop's aspirations towards immortality to shit. Nothing pulls you out of something as quickly as Harold Faltermeyer (or Glenn Frey)--and let me say this directly to music editor Bob Badami: don't introduce The Third Man with "there's a movie called The Third Man" unless you want to piss off the only people who give a shit about your stupid Zither/Anton Karas pretentious-ass reference in relation to motherfucking "Nasty Girl." An interactive "Location Map" points out places where the movie was shot on a map that, once clicked, pulls up interview clips (about 90 seconds apiece) with location managers, while the moldy theatrical trailer (2 mins.) clarifies how bad the film surely looked on my VCR back in the day despite its upgrade to HD. Funny to say, it made me more nostalgic and sad than anything else. Needless to say, we've gotten better at cutting trailers. Originally published: May 31, 2011.